The Best and Worst of the Grammys

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MARK J. TERRILL / AP

U2 performs with Mary J. Blige at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards

Ah, the Grammys. The one awards show that makes the Oscars look cool. Itís not for a lack of effort that the Grammys are so consistently square—itís too much effort. The producers are constantly trying to put together musical pairings and create some of that famous rock and roll excitement, which is usually a sure way to kill any kind of genuine energy. Regardless, this yearís hostless Grammy telecast produced a few memorable moments—as well as the customary dogs—and TIME music critic Josh Tyrangiel runs down the top 5 of each.

The Best
1. Kanye West/Jamie Foxx Performance
ďStart the five second delay—now!" Kanye West said before he and Jamie Foxx took the stage in full drum major gear. West was sadly uncontroversial, but his brilliant K.W. State vs. J.F.U. marching band performance of Gold Digger was easily the most energetic of the show. And when it began to sag just a little, the Gold Digger dancers came out followed by the members of Broke Phi Broke to do some step dancing. Americaís largest exposure to black fratenity culture since A Different World.

2. U2/Mary J. Blige Performance
The old pros opened with Vertigo, a showcase for The Edgeís amazingly clean guitar playing. Then Mary J. Blige stalked onto the stage looking, as always, as if someone just stole her car. Bono wisely backed away and let Mary go on about her enduring campaign of melody obliteration. She didnít sing a single note that was originally in One, but her gospel take on the olí chestnut (first performed on the telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims) was still moving.

3. Alicia Keys/Stevie Wonder Impromptu Performance
After some truly awful patter—"Itís the biggest night of the world!" Stevie announced—Wonder and fellow presenter Alicia Keys settled down and delivered a terrific improvised a cappela performance of Higher Ground dedicated to Coretta Scott King.

4. The Death Reel
I could watch hours of award show death reels. I love the awkward applause for the big deaths, and the silence for the obscure ones. This yearís show had some high quality deaths—Shirley Horn, Robert Moog, Wilson Pickett, Eugene Record of Chi-Lites and Luther Vandross—and the audience came through with socially inapropriate clapping for their favorite folk in the great beyond.

5. Ellen and 'los
Defying cliche and beating the traffic, presenter Ellen DeGeneres took the mic and said "Our next performer needs no introduction." Then she left and Paul McCartney started playing. Meanwhile Carlos Santana's "Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh" intro was a reminder that he really is the musical Rod Carew. (Though Rod has a few more hits.)

The Worst
1. The Sly Stone Tribute
The introduction by "Crazy" Dave Chappelle was a high point, even though, as Chappelle admitted, "It's like watching a baby walk, isn't it?" Then the music started and all hell broke loose. The Grammy producers really enjoy "spontaneous" moments, and despite years of evidence, they believe nothing provides more of them than star-filled medleys. What we learned is that Joss Stone, John Legend, Fantasia, Maroon 5, Ciara, Will.i.am, Steve Tyler, Joe Perry and Robert Randolph all have one thing in common—they can butcher Sly Stone songs beyond recognition. But at least they tried, as opposed to super duper secret guest star Sly Stone, who emerged with a platinum mohwak, strode to the keyboard, played around for a minute or two and then promptly left. Of course, if someone had killed my songs in tribute, I might have left too.

2. The opening
The hot gossip was that Madonna had demanded to open the show, thus bumping Mariah Carey to the second hour. So when the curtain rises we get... cartoon characters? Gorillaz made one of the best albums of 2005, but singer Damon Albarn's insistence that the band perform as its cartoon alter egos is annoying even when there aren't a few million people watching. On top of that, one of the cartoons actually checked his watch during the performance, mimicking the few remaining viewers. When Madonna finally did rise up from a hole in the stage, she was wearing Mary Lou Retton's unitard (and perhaps her thighs, as well; those things are massive) and her vocals were off key. When the announcer said, "And that was just the first of 26 animated performances," it seemed menacing.

3. Coldplay Performance
They played Talk, a fine song with an opening cribbed from Big Country, but Chris Martin's vocals were all over the place, even in the tremolo parts that he usually nails. On the plus side, Martin's all black outfit with gleaming white sneakers was a nice 20th anniversary tribute to Run DMC's Raising Hell.

4. Kanye "Calrissian"
What the hell was Kanye West wearing when he accepted his award? And what did he do with Billy Dee Williams? His only competition for oddest wardrobe moment was from Teri Hatcher, who, in striving for the Jennifer Lopez Lifetime Achievement Award in Attention Getting, fell flat.

5. Dharma?
All networks promote their shows when they get a high profile event, but "Please Welcome the star of Courting Alex, Jenna Elfman!" What? Was William Petersen busy?